The NI secretary has said there will not be a situation where “one community has a veto” over Brexit plans.
Julian Smith was responding to concern from some NI parties that the prime minister’s Brexit proposals could give the DUP a veto on post-Brexit arrangements.
Speaking on BBC’s The View, Mr Smith did not deny that a NI-only referendum was on the table.
He said there were “a range of options” for finding consent for the plans.
“The key thing is we have to have regard to the Good Friday Agreement and have regard to the need to have a cross-community approach to how we resolve this,” he added.
Mr Smith said that a number of options would be looked at to resolve the issue but did not go into details.
Consent – the new sticking point?
The issue of Northern Ireland’s consent – and how it is achieved – for post-Brexit arrangements has emerged as a key factor in negotiations.
In Mr Johnson’s latest proposals, the Northern Ireland Assembly would have to sign off on the plan to have Northern Ireland stay in the European single market for goods but leave the customs union.
It would then vote to maintain the arrangements every four years.
Stormont’s power-sharing government is currently not sitting – it collapsed two-and-a-half years ago amid a bitter row about a green energy scheme.
The assembly previously operated under a system of “parallel consent”, in which proposals must be backed by a majority of both unionists and nationalists. As such, nationalist parties and the cross-community Alliance Party have criticised the prime minister’s proposals as giving the main unionist party, the DUP, a veto.
On Thursday, Mr Johnson and Taoiseach (Irish prime minister) Leo Varadkar said they could see “a pathway to a deal” after meeting one-to-one, but Mr Varadkar maintained there were still issues over “consent and democracy”.
The secretary of state added that the “positivity” emerging from talks between Boris Johnson and Leo Varadkar gives him “great heart”.
He said both governments seem to be on the track of coming to an accommodation.
On Thursday, the prime minister and taoiseach (Irish PM) spoke for more than two hours, including a one-to-one discussion during a walk in the grounds of Thornton Manor in north-west England.
Mr Smith told the programme he had spoken to Mr Johnson on Thursday afternoon as well as a number of Stormont parties, but would not say whether that included the DUP.
He denied that he had considered resigning in September, when colleague Amber Rudd quit the cabinet, adding that he wanted to find a deal and believes it is still possible.
He also told the programme he is “not at all” considering calling a border poll despite Brexit uncertainty and a lack of progress to restore the Northern Ireland Assembly.
Northern Ireland has been without a functioning executive since January 2017, when the two governing parties – the DUP and Sinn Féin – split in a bitter row